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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1487

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (9:37 AM) —The proposition put by the Democrats is, in summary, to accept the proceeds of the sale, squirrel it away for a few years and hypothecate it towards the expenditure that will be required on the roll-out of the digital network for the ABC and SBS. As Senator Bourne has said, the Commonwealth has already made undertakings in relation to the funding of that roll-out. Simply put, it is a three-stage process—but I am sure there are lots of substages in those three stages—and it will occur over a number of years. It will probably be at least five years, and some parts of the roll-out could take even longer than that.

This government shares the view of the previous government. The Labor government, as I recall, year after year stood firm against the concept of hypothecation. The Commonwealth has made it clear that, with a couple of small exceptions, we intend to use the proceeds of the sale for debt repatriation which will help the Commonwealth budget and assist us in meeting our commitments on a range of issues—in particular, commitments in relation to the future roll-out of digital for the ABC and the SBS. We think there is no solid case to create this form of hypothecation in this matter.

In terms of the sale proceeds, Senator Bourne asked what the estimates were. A number of public estimates have floated around. They depend on an enormous number of variables. We considered some discussions, and I am probably foreshadowing what Senator Harradine might ask in future about controls over foreign ownership potential. We looked at what might occur if you sought to put a range of different restrictions on foreign ownership, and the potential sale proceeds varied enormously. I am using this as an example of the sorts of considerations you would have to take into account when placing a value on the network. Effectively, the network could be unsaleable with some constrictions placed on it and, therefore, the market value of it could go down to zero. So I would not like to speculate on a price.

We have had a number of bidders who have shown interest in the network, but it is a process of talking to the bidders, talking through the process of the sale, finalising the sale procedures and documentation and then seeing what comes out. So I think it would be highly speculative, almost hypothetical and unhelpful to mention any figures. It could fall anywhere between $100 million and $500 million. Senator Bourne mentioned two or three figures in her speech in the debate. We would hope the higher end of the scale, from the Commonwealth's point of view, would be found.

That fundamentally is the reason the coalition opposes this proposal by the Democrats. I know it is very well intended, but the Commonwealth has already made it quite clear in its statements that we will be funding the digital conversion of the ABC. As I understand it, we have already made some forward estimates in relation to some of those aspects, which shows our bona fides in this regard.